Wildland firefighters have long known the value of having the proper protective clothing and gear to prevent injury and illness – particularly from heat stress – while engaged in fire suppression operations. But structural firefighters who respond to wildland fires to provide mutual aid, or who respond to fires in the wildland urban interface in their response district, may not be as informed and educated.
The unprecedented wildfires that ravaged large areas in the Carolinas, Tennessee, New Jersey and other areas east of the Mississippi River last fall should serve as a wake-up call to structural fire departments on the need for wildland firefighting protective gear.
Structural firefighting PPE (e.g., helmets, coats, pants, boots and gloves) is designed to protect the firefighter from the thermal stresses associated with interior structural firefighting. Those design features make that PPE less desirable during wildland firefighting operations, where one of the primary health threats to a firefighter is heat stress from a high level of physical exertion during hot and dry conditions – and just as often, hot and humid conditions.
NFPA Standard 1977: Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting, addresses firefighters’ PPE needs during wildland firefighting. Its requirements are equally applicable for structural firefighters working at fires in the WUI. Here’s what structural fire departments need to know about wildland firefighting PPE.
Head, neck and face PPE
Head protection: Wildland firefighting helmets are available in two popular models: full-brim and cap-style. These helmets provide protection from mechanical hazards, like falling trees, limbs and rolling rocks, while providing better heat dissipation from the head. Today’s models offer improved integration with protective goggles and attachable headlamps for use during night operations.
- Americana Full Brim NFPA Wildlands Helmet
- Bullard Wildfire Helmet Cap Brim
- Bullard Wildfire Helmet Full Brim
Cost: Ranges from $40-$60 depending upon chosen style.
Neck protection: Face and neck shrouds for wildland firefighting provide better heat dissipation, while still providing a level of thermal protection, particularly from hot embers.
Neck shroud examples:
- FP500 Neck Protector
- FP300 Neck Protector
- Hot Shield Face Protector w/ Particle Mask
- Hot Shield UB-V2 Wildland Firefighter Ultimate Bandana
Cost: Ranges from $30-$100 depending upon chosen style.
Face protection: Wildland firefighting goggles provide the most effective eye protection from the smoke, dust and small flying objects present in both wildland and WUI fire operations, especially when air support is being provided. Be sure that protective goggles meet ANSI standards.
- Bolle Backdraft Wildland Fire Goggle
- ESS Firefighter Rubber Goggles Smokeless
- Odyssey II NFPA Wildland Fire Anti-Fog Goggle
Cost: Ranges from $25-$50 depending upon chosen style.
The highly recognizable yellow shirts and green pants worn by wildland firefighters are made of aramid fabrics; aramid fabric burns if exposed to flame, but stops burning when the flame is removed. Aramid fibers provide a key protective characteristic for wildland firefighters: instead of melting or burning to ash, they form a char that helps to protect the skin.
Loose-fitting clothing, experience has shown, is more important in preventing serious burn injuries than the fire-resistance properties of the material. Tight-fitting shirts and pants pose an increased danger from radiant heat and heat stress; they also reduce a firefighter's ability to perform and increase their level of exertion. Look for flame-resistant clothing that gives the wearer good movement and ventilation.
Flame-resistant shirt examples:
- CrewBoss Brush Shirt – 6 oz. Nomex
- Dragon Slayer Wildland Brush Shirt – 6 oz. Nomex
- CrewBoss Hi-Viz Brush Shirt – Tecasafe Plus
Cost: Ranges from $110-$175 depending upon chosen style.
Flame-resistant coat examples:
- CrewBoss Brush Coat – Nomex 6 oz
- Lakeland Wildland Fire Coat – Style WLSCT Nomex
- Lakeland Wildland Fire Coat – Style WLSCT Cotton
- CrewBoss Interface Brush Coat – Tecasafe Plus
Cost: Ranges from $200-$500 depending upon chosen style.
Flame-resistant pants examples:
- DragonWear Dragon Slayer Wildland Pants
- Coaxsher Wildland Vent Brush Pant (Green)
- Crew Boss Station/Wildland Dual-Compliant BDU Brush Pant (Nomex)
- Propper Wildland Pants
Cost: Ranges from $150-$300 depending upon chosen style.
FR coveralls and jumpsuits can be a cost-effective PPE solution for volunteer departments and those career and combination departments that infrequently engage in wildland or WUI firefighting operations. Those firefighters can easily don coveralls or jumpsuits over their street clothing or station uniforms, providing a safer and more effective PPE ensemble than their normal structural firefighting PPE.
Flame-resistant coveralls examples:
- CrewBoss Standard Jump Suit – Nomex
- Lion 6.8 oz. Nomex Wildland Coveralls
- PGI Fireline Turnout Gear FireLine Wildland Yellow Nomex IIIA Jumpsuit
Cost: Ranges from $100-$500 depending upon chosen style.
Select gloves that are designed to protect your hands against blisters, cuts, scratches and minor burns during routine firefighting. It’s best to avoid conventional oil-tanned work gloves because they can burn or shrink in intense heat.
Wildland fire gloves should be full-grained, chrome-tanned leather. The full-grain requires narrower stitches and the chrome-tanning process makes a glove that’s better able to provide protection against heat and shrinkage, while resisting stretching when wet.
- North Star White Ox Glove
- Shelby Pigskin Wildland/Rescue Glove
- Pro-Tech 8 Wildland Firefighting Glove
- Pro-Tech 8 Fusion T Short Cuff Structural/Wildland Firefighting Glove
Cost: Ranges between $10-$75 depending upon chosen model.
Boots are critical, particularly if your response areas includes steep and uneven terrain. Look for wildland fire boots that are a minimum of 8 inches high, leather lace-type with skid-resistant soles. Boots that lace to the toe are preferred by many wildland firefighters because they accommodate heavier socks and provide more support. Lace-to-toe boots also come with side zippers for easier donning and doffing.
Slips and falls account for more than 15 percent of all injuries in wildland fires, so non-slip soles are essential. Steel-toed boots are not recommended for wildland firefighting because of the potential for heat transference while walking over burned-out ground.
- Danner Wildland Tactical Firefighter 8" Boot
- Thorogood 8" Power Station/EMS/Wildland Boot
- Thorogood 9" Firestalker Elite Wildland Hiking Boot
- Bates DuraShocks 8" Side Zip Lace-to-Toe Boot
Cost: Ranges from $150-$350 depending upon chosen model.
Fire shelters are an important component of the wildland firefighter's PPE. The aluminized pup-tent-like shelter is the only piece of equipment that offers lifesaving protection in the event of an impending entrapment. In an entrapment, the fire shelter gives a firefighter life-saving capabilities by providing more breathable air, and protecting their lungs and airways from flames and hot gases, the leading killers in an entrapment.
Fire shelters should be available to all firefighters who potentially respond to wildfires, especially structural firefighters who respond to WUI fires.
Fire shelter example:
- Anchor Industries’ New Generation Fire Shelter
Cost: $600-$800 depending upon size of shelter selected.
Wildland firefighter packs
Wildland firefighting requires that firefighters be self-sufficient logistically; rehab areas are far and few between. Individual packs should be large enough to carry a fire shelter, drinking water, extra pairs of gloves, a flashlight or headlamp, a compass, topographical maps, energy bars, as well as sunscreen and insect repellant.
Look for packs that are designed specifically to withstand the rigors of wildland firefighting. Conventional packs put the entire pack load on the upper spine through the shoulder straps. Bending forward (e.g., raking a fire line or chopping trees or stumps) significantly loads the spine further because of the additional force in the erector spine muscles to counteract the weight of the torso when bent forward.
A fanny pack is a better option because by tightening the waist belt sufficiently, it transmits the pack load to the lower spine that is supported by the pelvic iliac bones, thus bypassing the upper spine. The addition of shoulder straps to a fanny pack prevents rotation of the pack and helps keep the pack in contact with the lower spine.
- Coaxsher FS-1 Mojave Light-Weight Wildland Fire Pack
- Wolfpack Gear Carbon Series Detachable Day Pack
- True North Fireball Wildland Pack Gen 2
- CrewBoss BlackBurn Type One Pack
Cost: Ranges from $150-$350 depending upon model chosen.
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